*In-state, two semesters' tuition and required fees. Source: U.S. News Best Colleges 2012.
Founded as South Carolina College in 1801, the institution survived despite closing its doors during the Civil War and temporarily falling under Union possession. It became the University of South Carolina in 1865.
Town: Columbia (pop. 129,272)
Nickname: Gamecocks, adopted in 1902 when the football team upset Clemson and students paraded with a tobacco store transparency depicting a gamecock standing over a fallen tiger.
Colors: Garnet and black
Traditions: The Cockaboose Railroad, a string of 22 cabooses tricked out with tailgating amenities outside of Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecock football team’s thundering entrance to the 2001 theme (Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra”) is the most exciting in the country, according to The Sporting News.
Eats and treats: Garibaldi Café serves its trademark crispy flounder and a variety of Italian entrees. Students love Sandy’s Famous Hot Dogs, and Hudson’s Smokehouse was voted the city’s best barbecue by Columbia’s Free Times.
Places and spaces: The hottest spot in Cola (the locals’ nickname for Columbia, S.C.) is the Congaree Vista, a former cotton warehouse district and railroad terminal transformed into an art and entertainment hub. Five Points, a lively neighborhood nestled near campus, is dotted with boutiques, restaurants and bars.
Established in 1976 and located in the heart of South Carolina's campus, the McKissick Museum focuses on preserving southern community and culture.